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“It’s all about being able to have a comfortable delivery that you can repeat a hundred times per start”

Jake Arrieta’s Mechanics: Learning from the Past

by Eno Sarris - March 20, 2015

When we took a look at Jake Arrieta‘s multi-faceted slider on Wednesday, the pitcher gave credit to ‘old-timers’ for the idea to use his legs to deaden the pitch. It turns out, there’s more old school in his mechanics than just a dragging back leg on a slow slider.

It’s not like Arrieta opened with a discussion of the way things used to be. When I first asked him about his mechanics, he felt there wasn’t one aha moment that helped him find his command and his best delivery. “I moved away from being concerned with mechanics to being more conscious of the positioning of my body and being able to put it in certain spots more consistently,” he said.

Just a natural growth, time, and a better understanding of his body had led to improvements. “Developing, maturing physically, understanding what you need to be consistent with, in order to have consistent command,” is how he put it.

But what did that mean? “For me, it boiled down to how can I get my body in the appropriate position at delivery. I figured that out,” he said. That mirrors what you might hear from a hitter. Adam LaRoche even said that “when you get to the position of impact, when you’re going after the ball, most of us are in the same spot.”

But how did he get there? “It’s about having certain feelings in the lower body and trying to connect everything,” he said. “It’s one connected piece. To me, it was a process of playing consistent long toss and being able to have certain cues throughout my delivery that allow me to stay on track.”

What you may not hear here is a specific change. There’s nothing here about working on the way he brings the ball up from behind him. There’s nothing here about an inverted W or dropping his elbow, or dragging his shoulder. Maybe he didn’t want to give those specifics, but when I pushed him once again, he said it was more about a feeling.

So you won’t see much if you put up an old delivery (2012, left) against his current one (May 2014, right). Maybe the new one is simpler. He starts from a different position.

“There’s no perfect delivery, there are no perfect mechanics,” he said, not frustrated by the badgering, but also not about to put his improvement all on one change. “It’s all about being able to have a comfortable delivery that you can repeat a hundred times per start, which is what I have now.”

Turns out, these ideas — like the idea that he can deaden his slider by using his lower half — came from yesterday’s game. And Arrieta was passionate about this one:

“You look at guys that pitched in the sixties and seventies, with moving parts all over the place, Jim PalmerBob Gibson, those guys, and people kind of strayed away from that and moved gradually to a more robotic type of delivery. I think that takes a lot of the athleticism out of it. If people could get back to being more athletic and understanding their body and the way it moves, I think that’s the more appropriate way to find out what’s the appropriate delivery for you.

It’s all individually based. Guys are done a disservice sometimes when people try to make them the guy that they want them to be rather than trying to reinforce the guy that they are, and helping them understand where their body needs to be at release. It doesn’t matter what you do on the mound or what you do going down the mound, what matters most is the position you are in at release. For me, it took a while to understand that, but now that I have that understanding, it makes things a lot easier.”

Ask Kyle Boddy of pitching lab Driveline Baseball about this idea, and he applauds it. “People obsess over their “mechanics” instead of just figuring out how their body best works to achieve a task consistently. I totally agree with the idea that in the 1990s and early 2000s that pitchers started to become very compact, robotic-like. There is a definite movement away from this in a lot of areas.” Boddy cited repeatability as a “driving plank” of his lab, which has had some notable success recently improving Trevor Bauer‘s command, among others.

Arrieta had another analogy to help back up his point, and it came from another sport. “I compare it to a golf swing a lot of time,” the pitcher said. “There are times when your lower body is going to be ahead of your upper body or vice versa. In a golf swing, those are things you can be aware of mid swing and make the adjustment. If your upper body in the backswing is late, then you got to get your hands going a little quicker. If, on the downswing, your hands are moving quicker than your hips, then you gotta increase the speed of your hips. Same thing with your delivery. If you leak out front with your lower body, you have to be aware that your arm and your upper body has to catch up.”

This analogy wasn’t as exciting to Boddy, but he still understood the pitcher. “A certain percentage of the time, you will just not execute properly and the ball will miss by a wide margin. No different than a fielder throwing it away or a hitter taking the worst hack ever at a center-cut fastball at 91 MPH. So I don’t necessarily agree that you always have to make adjustments on the fly, it’s OK to fail and screw up — as long as execution on the whole reaches a high percentage,” the coach felt.

If there’s a two-part answer to Arrieta’s breakout last year, step two was all about figuring out how to use the slider many different ways. But the pitcher was succinct when it came to step one — “it all starts with command” — even if he had many (old-school) thoughts about how he found the right mechanics to harness that command.

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/jake-arrietas-mechanics-learning-from-the-past/

 

 

 

“That’s the whole key to hitting.”

Opposite Attracts: Appreciating Paul Goldschmidt’s Oppo-Field Prowess

JUSTIN K. ALLER/GETTY IMAGES

FEBRUARY 20, 2015 by JOE LEMIRE

Before wielding the thundering stick that indiscriminately demolishes all sides of the baseball, including the oft-neglected inner half that generates the “oppo power” an opposing All-Star pitcher deems “ridiculous,” Paul Goldschmidt started small.

As a teenager, Goldschmidt took hitting lessons from Joe Canizaro, a Houston-area instructor whose son, Jay, played four big league seasons. Among the myriad drills Joe ran his prized pupil through was using a miniature 22-inch Louisville Slugger in soft toss to help Goldschmidt swing quickly and stay inside the baseball. Joe says that Goldschmidt’s “lightning-fast” hands enabled him to master the drill swiftly.

“That kind of muscle memory and repetition of being short and quick to the ball allows the ball to travel further, and you can make a decision later,” Jay says. “That’s the whole key to hitting.”

The small-scale irony is that this drill helped spawn a nemesis: Joe learned it from Jay, who picked it up from Frank Cacciatore, his hitting coach in Double-A Shreveport — an affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, one of the teams Goldschmidt has made a living destroying since debuting with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011.

The larger impact is that it helped forge the league’s top practitioner of a rudimentary skill that has eroded so severely, baseball’s new commissioner is considering a rule change to compensate.

♦♦♦

NORM HALL/GETTY IMAGES

Until an errant early-August fastball from then-Pirates reliever Ernesto Frieri broke the fourth metacarpal of Goldschmidt’s left hand, the 2013 NL MVP runner-up was enjoying another ascendant season. He’d led the NL with 36 home runs in ’13, and at the time of his 2014 injury, he was tops in the league in doubles and ranked in the top five in on-base and slugging percentage.

Goldschmidt, who also suffered a hand fracture in college,1 says he was close to 100 percent by the end of the 2014 regular season and isn’t concerned about his health entering spring training.

“My hand feels great,” Goldschmidt says during a recent phone interview. “Honestly, I forget I even broke it.”

That quick recovery and consistent mind-set won’t surprise anyone who knows Goldschmidt. Ron Eastman, Goldschmidt’s coach at Houston baseball powerhouse The Woodlands High School, has won three national coach of the year awards and three state titles, and he’s coached 23 eventual MLB draft picks, including first-rounders Jameson Taillon and Kyle Drabek. But even amid that illustrious cadre of baseball alumni, Goldschmidt stands out in Eastman’s mind for his work ethic, character … and opposite-field power.

“Paul hit the inside half of the baseball better than any high school kid I’ve ever seen,” Eastman says.

When Mike Rutledge, a tax attorney by day who also coaches the Houston-area Kyle Chapman summer team, watches MLB highlights of his former star, he sees the same familiar swing path.

“I’m sure it’s been tweaked, but that swing has not changed since he was 16 years old, not materially,” Rutledge says. (For his part, Goldschmidt says he’s “never really thought about” his swing’s evolution.)

Though the injury limited Goldschmidt’s overall 2014 production, that consistent stroke helped him match his stellar 2013 campaign in other areas: In 109 contests last season, Goldschmidt batted .434 when pulling the ball in play, according to Baseball-Reference’s hit location data, but batted .517 when hitting the ball to the opposite field. To appreciate how much of an anomaly that is, consider that in 2014, the average right-handed batter posted a .395 average on balls in play to the pull side and a .287 average the other way. Furthermore, Goldschmidt has hit 34 percent of his 85 career home runs to either right field or right-center field; by comparison, all other major league right-handed hitters have slugged 14 percent of their homers to right or right-center since Goldschmidt’s rookie season.

In an era of increasingly pull- and power-happy hitters, Goldschmidt is a rarity. Batters’ declining tendency to hit to the opposite field has become so pervasive that baseball has seen a corresponding, exponential rise in defensive overshifting in recent seasons, particularly in 2014, and even on right-handed batters.

There were 2,357 shifts across the majors in 2011, but 13,296 in 2014, according to Baseball Info Solutions. And though there’s debate on the topic, many argue that such a jump has contributed to leaguewide batting averages being at their lowest in 42 seasons. Many hitters’ ability to go the opposite way is so poor that Rob Manfred, who took over as MLB commissioner on January 25, suggested that eliminating overshifts might be a good way to inject additional offense into the game.

“It’s not anything I’ve really studied so I can’t really have an opinion,” Goldschmidt says. “Most of the numbers say defenses are doing pretty good, but as a hitter it’s not something I’ve ever really thought about. I just try to hit the ball hard, and hopefully they don’t catch it. Where they’re playing is out of your control as a hitter.”

Despite Goldschmidt’s modest demurral, there is an antidote to the shift, and it’s a discipline at which the first baseman excels: hitting the ball where it’s pitched.

“Paul is smart enough to realize the majority of the hitting he was going to probably do was to center field or right field,” says Ty Harrington, Goldschmidt’s college coach at Texas State. “So he trained himself and trained on the idea of hitting balls middle-away, which is where the majority of people pitched him in college. And then he had the ability, the strength, and the [physicality] to hit balls out to center field or right-center.”

No less an authority than Ted Williams, arguably the greatest hitter who ever lived, confessed that opposite-field hitting wasn’t easy. He faced some of the first defensive overshifts in baseball history, including one devised by former Indians player-manager Lou Boudreau, in which all four infielders were on the right side of second base. After first seeing the shift, Williams (as recounted in The Kid by Ben Bradlee Jr.) wrote in a September 1946 column for the Boston Globe: “It takes time to break away from your natural habit. Hitting to the opposite field is a science. Players who have accomplished this skill have required many long hours of practice. That’s what I’m going to have to do.”

And that’s exactly what Goldschmidt did. “I think his BP really tells you who he is because of his consummate work, his consistent approach,” Harrington says, speaking as though time in the cage were a window into Goldschmidt’s baseball soul. “If a person really wanted to identify Paul’s personality, then watch him take batting practice.”

Much of that work centered on learning to spray the ball all around the field. Harrington says that Goldschmidt seemed to aim for the top of the outfield wall — line-drive height — during batting practice rather than the bleachers themselves, and Trip Couch, the former Arizona area scout who advocated drafting Goldschmidt, once told me, “He’s just always been more of a line-drive guy. He wasn’t an awe-inspiring BP home run guy as an amateur.”

Chad MacDonald, a special assistant to the GM with the Braves who worked in amateur scouting with the Diamondbacks when the club drafted Goldschmidt, also touts Goldschmidt’s focused and disciplined approach. “He really tracks the ball a little longer than most guys,” MacDonald says. “Most guys are dead-pull guys, and most home runs are to the pull side, but he’s pretty patient. He lets the ball get deep and can hit them out to right-center for sure.”

It’s easier to hit an outside pitch to the opposite field than it is to do so with one thrown inside, but doing so requires exercising the patience to let the ball get deep over the plate, practically into the catcher’s mitt. The Diamondbacks led all teams with four instances of catcher’s interference last season; Goldschmidt accounted for all four.

“For a big, strong guy, he can manipulate a baseball pretty well,” former Arizona general manager Kevin Towers says. “It’s strength, it’s trust in yourself, it’s slowing that heart rate down.”

♦♦♦

JIM MCISAAC/GETTY IMAGES

Goldschmidt, who is 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, is surprisingly spry for his size, having led Arizona in stolen bases twice. But his laborious efforts more than his natural athleticism have made him the player he is.

“He really works on staying connected with his lower half and being able to drive that ball to the opposite field,” says Diamondbacks hitting coach Turner Ward, who was retained this offseason despite front office and managerial changes. “It’s not just a gift — it’s something that he truly works on.”

Goldschmidt worked to develop not only the fundamentals of his swing, but also his power. He was so dedicated to training that, as a teenager, he worked out even while recovering from a stress fracture in his back. Told to avoid doing any rotational movements with his torso, Goldschmidt went to the gym and lifted with his lower body. The evening he received medical clearance to resume full activities, he went for a three-mile run and then met Joe Canizaro to hit the rest of the evening. Such diligence paid dividends.

“His biceps looked like double ice-cream scoops,” Rutledge says.

Goldschmidt’s high school power — which included a state-title-winning home run to straightaway center field at a Triple-A stadium that Canizaro says hasn’t come down yet — didn’t immediately translate to the college level, however.

Goldschmidt, who hit cleanup for Texas State as a freshman, broke the hamate bone in his left hand in his fourth collegiate game, and after taking six weeks off to recover, he had trouble mustering anything more than singles. By his 19th game of the season, Goldschmidt still hadn’t managed an extra-base hit, and his power outage became a large enough point of conversation that when he finally doubled at Central Arkansas in his 59th at-bat after returning from injury, “the whole dugout jumped up and started hollering and screaming,” Harrington says.

Goldschmidt homered only once as a freshman and didn’t hit any the following summer in the Texas Collegiate League — “I don’t know if I want to blame it on [the injury],” Goldschmidt says. “It kind of sounds like an excuse” — but the power arrived shortly thereafter. He led the Southland Conference in home runs the next two years, belting 17 as a sophomore and 18 as a junior (when he also led Division I with 88 RBIs). In the minors, Goldschmidt averaged a homer every four games at all three minor league levels he saw, and by the third, Double-A, the scouting report on his opposite-field power was well known.

“Goldschmidt had hit a home run on top of our clubhouse in right field,” says Rays starter Matt Moore, who pitched for the Montgomery Biscuits and joined Goldschmidt in the 2011 Double-A All-Star Game. “The whole time [facing him] I was like, ‘Just don’t leave something over the middle or away. Just miss in.’”

USA Today named Goldschmidt its 2011 minor league player of the year for his 30 home runs in 103 games even though he spent the final two months of the season in the majors. Goldschmidt homered twice for the Diamondbacks in that season’s NLDS against the Brewers — one a grand slam and both to the opposite field. Asked if he was surprised that Goldschmidt skipped Triple-A and made such an immediate impact in the majors, Ward, who managed Goldschmidt in Double-A, says, “I was surprised I had him that long.”

About the only thing quicker than Goldschmidt’s ascension through the minors is the record speed at which all of his former coaches rush to praise him. There’s only one naysayer in the lot: Goldschmidt, who deflects credit as strongly, patiently, and effectively as he swats baseballs. Rather than accept the praise, he goes the other way.

http://grantland.com/the-triangle/mlb-paul-goldschmidt-arizona-diamondbacks-opposite-field-power-beating-the-shift/

 

“It’s not an exploitation of a market inefficiency; it’s an unusual willingness to be the market inefficiency.”

 

March 16, 2015

Every Team's Moneyball

San Francisco Giants: Embodying the Market Inefficiency

by Matthew Trueblood

Welcome to the Baseball Prospectus 2015 season previews. For the next three weeks, BP authors will be writing about what each team does best in pursuit of wins. We will parse statistics, transactions, news, and quotes in an effort to identify the market inefficiency each team is taking advantage of. Wins are the end goal, but each of the 30 teams are obtaining them in different ways by prioritizing certain initiatives. Today, we begin the series with last year's World Series players, the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals.Andrew Koo

What the Giants did to become three-time World Series champions, no one can reliably replicate. Hell, the Giants couldn’t reliably replicate it. They scouted, drafted, and developed well, but also got very lucky, when three straight top draft picks panned out and became superstars. They trusted their best eyes and took their chances on Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner, a couple of unorthodox arms. They pounced when the Royals fell in love with Eric Hosmer, which led toBuster Posey dropping to them in 2008. Lincecum, Bumgarner, Posey. That’s the core of the team.

It’s not like it’s an unmatched core, though. Lincecum and Bumgarner haven’t even been ace-caliber at the same time, but for perhaps 2011. The Giants couldn’t have won without something else: a supporting cast that lent them depth, balance, and some added upside. There’s a well-loved, saber-friendly way of assembling such a group. It involves methodical, incremental improvements, made mostly via trade and player development. The idea is to build a relatively deep, cheap group of major contributors, and to commit to a player either early in his career (while his distance from free agency gives the team leverage and creates an opportunity for a bargain) or not at all.

The Giants do things almost exactly the opposite way. They willingly lean on the guys at the top of their roster, and they spend a whole lot more on the middle of it than most teams do. They beat teams by being marginally better in a large number of places, and they do that by rolling the profit they’ve made off of Posey, Lincecum, and Bumgarner into a series of free-agent signings other teams would never make. Some GMs always look smart. Some even look too cute, sometimes. Brian Sabean never looks too cute. He rarely even looks that smart, except when he’s lifting the Commissioner’s Trophy.

That’s because Sabean goes for the guys who don’t fit the smart guys’ profiles. If you want to call Tim Lincecum’s two-year, $35 million deal—a contract Sabean handed out a fortnight before Lincecum would even have become a free agent—a sentimental thing, fine. That doesn’t explain away the five-year commitment Sabean made to Hunter Pence three weeks before signing Lincecum, though.

I count the following contracts, stretching back as far as 2010 (but mostly concentrated within the last few years), as signature Sabean moves:

Player

Contract Terms

Seasons Included

Age During Contract

WARP

Hunter Pence

5 Y / $90 MM

2014-18

31-35

3.9+

Tim Lincecum

2 Y / $35 MM

2014-15

30-31

-1.2

Angel Pagan

4 Y / $40 MM

2013-16

31-34

3.3+

Tim Hudson

2 Y / $23 MM

2014-15

38-39

-0.5

Jake Peavy

2 Y / $24 MM

2015-16

34-35

?

Marco Scutaro

3 Y / $20 MM

2013-15

37-39

1.8

Jeremy Affeldt

3 Y / $18 MM

2013-15

34-36

0.0

Sergio Romo

2 Y / $15 MM

2015-16

32-33

?

Javier Lopez

3 Y / $13 MM

2014-16

36-38

-0.3+

Aubrey Huff

2 Y / $22 MM

2011-12

34-35

0.7

Mark DeRosa

2 Y / $12 MM

2010-11

35-36

-0.1

Edgar Renteria

2 Y / $18.5 MM

2009-10

32-33

1.1

There are three multi-year deals for relief pitchers here. There are three for position players who were never elite, and were well into their mid-30s before signing. Then we have two true long-term deals for outfielders in their 30s, and three two-year pacts for starting pitchers five years past their primes.

Here are a fistful more: guys who cost the team much less to sign on one-year deals, but who still came with some attached stigma—underperformance the year before they signed, injury issues, age, or limited skill sets:

Player

Contract Terms

Seasons

Age During Contract

WARP

Norichika Aoki

$4.7 MM

2015

33

?

Ryan Vogelsong

$5 MM, $4 MM

2014, 2015

36, 37

0.8, ?

Michael Morse

$6 MM

2014

32

1.9

Miguel Tejada

$6.5 MM

2011

37

1.1

Juan Uribe

$1 MM, $3.25 MM

2009, 2010

30, 31

3.6, 2.7

Sabean caught at least some flak for every one of these deals and from a pure marginal-cost, marginal-win perspective, it was justified. Those deals didn’t make the Giants money. Here’s what they laid out, and what they got back, for the above-listed players, season by season.

Season

Number of Players

Salary Paid

WARP

2009

2

$9 million

4.1

2010

3

$19.25 million

2.7

2011

3

$22.5 million

2.2

2012

1

$10 million

0.1

2013

3

$20.9 million

2.9

2014

9

$81.9 million

6.8

They owe 11 of these players a combined $98 million in 2015, and five of them are due $59 million in 2016. For a supporting cast, this collection of veterans is getting awfully pricey. Once, the punditry panned these moves as the work of the uninitiated. Sabean sure cut the figure of a sabermetric Luddite. As we get more and more information refuting that reputation though, we have to reassess. It seems clear that Sabean and his staff have an objective cause to believe that unfavorable age and skill profiles dent the value of some players more than they should.

As Sam Miller demonstrated on Friday, the Giants have the third-thinnest band of projected variance in starting rotation performance of any team in baseball. The story is similar for the bullpen and the positional corps. The Giants pay for stability, and to stay on the right side of average everywhere. They pay for track records, even though track records come with age. That’s an expensive and unsexy way to win, but it’s definitely a way to win. With each ring, their fan base gets more secure and their pockets get deeper. It’s only getting easier for Sabean to do what he does best. It’s not an exploitation of a market inefficiency; it’s an unusual willingness to be the market inefficiency. Efficiency is a means to an end, but it’s not a prerequisite for all success. In a market where almost everyone is focused on efficiency, Sabean isn’t. That creates opportunities, and Sabean and the Giants are getting very good at taking advantage of them.

http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=25784

 

“one of them is going to have a really good team that finishes fourth.”

 

The Center of Power

March 17, 2015 by Peter Gammons 

 

SURPRISE, Arizona—Out here where they tell you to watch out for the scorpions, the first sound you hear is Salvador Perez, at first light, at stretching, around the batting cage.

The Royals were a great October ride from the beginning comeback against Jon Lester untilMadison Bumgarner got Perez with two out in the bottom of the ninth with Alex Gordon on third base. There was a John R. Tunis quality to them—young, naïve, intrepid—and in the end they were really good. It was if we all watched Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain andAlcides Escobar and Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy grow up on stage, and yet here they are, four-and-a-half months later, and they know that getting 90 feet from extra innings in the seventh game of the World Series is last year.

“This year,” Ned Yost says, “we might be in the best division in our league.” To which a couple of his coaches added that it will be difficult to get two playoff teams out of the AL Central for the third straight year because the four best teams may beat up on one another and as the Twins start their reconstruction they may be a tough team to beat come August or September.

And unlike the Red Sox, Yankees and Tigers, by the nature of their markets, they have to think present, and their future. “We’re already having to think about our next wave,” says Royals General Manager Dayton Moore. Arbitration guarantees raises; Mike Moustakas hit .212 and got a handsome raise. The union and many agents want players going to free agency; Gordon is gone after this season, and the clock is ticking on the final three years on Eric Hosmer.

So the Royals closely monitor 19-year-old shortstop Raul Mondesi, who one coach calls “one of the best young players I’ve ever seen.” And the Indians study Francisco Lindor, an astoundingly talented, mature 20-year-old shortstop, even though the staff ERA dropped nearly a run after Jose Ramirez took over at the position after the Asdrubal Cabrera trade. Lindor will start the season in Columbus—the Indians want him for seven, not six years—but Lindor clearly is the future. In the present, he came into camp and cleaned everyone on the agility and endurance test, has gotten stronger and looked at 21 as if he could go North and play. And the future blends into the 2015 present with the White Sox, for whom rookie second baseman Micah Johnson can be a game-changer in the two hole between Adam Eaton and Jose Abreu and lefthanded pitcher Carlos Rodon could be an important starter once he grasps consistency with his changeup.

There is no gauging the Royals. “There was a lot of growing up that went on in October,” says Eric Hosmer, who at 25 has become a face of a franchise whose base is so loyal, fans cannot get enough of George Brett in uniform every spring. Yost and Don Wakamatsuwatched that playoff run and saw young players concentrate game-to-game, at-bat-to-at-bat, not looking up at their numbers on the megaboard, concentrating on immediate moments, not the totality of their careers. They saw Moustakas, who during the season struggled to find his career, homer to beat the Angels, then the next game come up and drop down a bunt to beat a shift.

All of a sudden Hosmer’s confidence blossomed, Lorenzo Cain started playing like Carlos GomezJarrod Dyson became a piece, Alcides Escobar looked like a star and this team that was last in home runs played its offensively-challenged ballpark to the max, using speed (they were first in steals and did so at an 81% success rate) and athletic defense (they had the best defensive run prevention numbers in the league). How much carries over? Hosmer, Perez and others think it was a beginning. Yost cautiously believes it.

“I strongly believe that it takes young players like ours two-and-a-half years before they establish who they are as big league players,” says Yost. “It really started in the second half in 2013, when we had the best record in the division. I think we’re at a level now where these players have comfort in who and what they are.”

Now, this is the complex window of opportunity small market general managers like Dayton Moore, Chris Antonetti and Neal Huntington—all of whom have had considerable success the last two years—have in building teams that can sustain success. When Bobby Cox left Toronto to take over the head of baseball operations for the Braves in 1985-86, he said it would take five years to develop pitching, seven to develop position players and those position players would take another two years to establish themselves. “As usual, Bobby was right,” says Yost.

The problem is drafting and finding the talent, then develop it, then deal with the window narrowing with impending free agency lurking. The Royals could have all-star position players in Perez, Hosmer, Escobar and Cain, but they have already lost a very important cog in that pennant drive in James Shields.

With Greg HollandWade DavisKelvin HerreraLuke HochevarJason Frasor, comebackingRyan MadsonBrandon Finnegan and Louis Coleman, they have an astounding bullpen.Jason Vargas has joked that he plans to go five innings, then tell Yost it’s time for the pen. But, seriously, Moore signed Edinson Volquez and Kris Medlen off Tommy John Surgery for the rotation to go with Vargas, Danny Duffy, Jeremy Guthrie and Yordano Ventura. Out on the future horizon are Sean Manaea and Kyle Zimmer, with high ceilings.

“We need our starters to give us consistency,” says Moore. Indeed. They need Christian Colon to step in at second if Omar Infante has physical problems, and Moore signed Alex Rios and Kendrys Morales; in Kansas City, you can’t dabble in Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez stocks.

Either, of course, can the Indians, but they, too are an intriguing team to watch come this October. This is an organization carefully integrated and woven on all levels of scouting, development, preparation, analytics and thought tanks. But it funnels to Terry Francona, who in this life in Cleveland has placed himself on a managerial level among the best of the last 20 years.

Francona is a master of delegating authority to an exceptional coaching staff. He somehow manages to walk the line between not taking himself seriously and allowing the players to come to the park as if they were teenagers, yet command the respect of a man with two world championships and post-season experience in Boston and Cleveland.

The Indians haven’t lined up top-of-the-draft prodigies like the Royals. But they have a Cy Young Award winner in Corey Kluber that never made a Baseball American top 100 prospect list and was a who are you? in a three-way deal out of San Diego. Michael Brantley, called by Moore “the best hitter in the league,” was a player to be named later in the C.C. Sabathiatrade in 2008 and blew up six years later. Carlos Santana came for Casey BlakeCarlos Carrasco was the fourth guy in the Cliff Lee deal. Yan Gomes is an elite defensive catcher and was essentially a holiday gift from the Blue Jays. Cody Allen was a 23rd round draft pick and now a premium reliever.

What Antonetti did this winter was to build depth. He signed Brandon Moss, who hammers righthanded pitching. He’s counting on Michael Bourn being healthy, Lonnie Chisenhallprogressing, Jason Kipnis (whose injury plagued season dropped from .284/.366/.452 with 17 homers to .240/.310/.330 with 6 HR), and Ryan Raburn bouncing back for lefthanders.Mike Aviles is a rock utility player, Roberto Perez a superb defensive catcher behind Gomes,David Murphy…and if Ramirez and Chisenhall struggle, Lindor and third baseman Giovanny Urshela may be future glovers. And outfielder James Ramsey, could be an important role piece in the stretch.

Ramsey came from the Cardinals in the Justin Masterson deal last July. He was an All-America at Florida State, Rhodes Scholar candidate, and if you study his swing, it has tennis backhand written all over it. For good reason. He was raised in a tennis family, and he must be the only major leaguer whose shoe deal includes Roger Federer racquets.

If the Indians do replicate the Royals October run, it will be because of their starting pitching, of whom Kluber, at 28, is the oldest. Kluber was ridiculously good, and the morning after the Cy Young was announced, he went right back into his workout program. We look for pitchers convicted, driven, obsessed…he is a poster boy. Once Carrasco went to the bullpen and learned to go one batter at a time, he came back for 14 starts that included 69 hits, 20 walks and 101 strikeouts in 91 innings. Next projects: Trevor Bauer, who is really close to being what he is obsessed with being—great—and Danny Salazar. Stuff? Kluber, Carrasco, Bauer and Salazar had 633 strikeouts in 588 innings.

The White Sox may have won only 71 games last season, but they have added Jeff SamardzijaDavid RobertsonAdam LaRoche and Melky CabreraChris Sale can win the Cy Young any year. And Eaton and Johnson can light it at the top of the order. Johnson stole 84 bases in the minors two years ago, and is a specimen; this is no tiny burner, he’s 215 pounds with Dee Gordon speed, and enough power to hit an opposite field homer this week.

The White Sox should contend, and can easily make the playoffs. The Tigers will be the team to beat as long as Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez are healthy by May 1.

Justin Verlander should be back. David Price and Anibal Sanchez are really good. They thinkShane Greene was a steal, Alfredo Simon as the big arm, so if they get reasonable stability at the end from Joe NathanJoakim SoriaBruce Rondon and Joba Chamberlain, they will be back in the high life again.

The American League Central has four teams with legitimate dreams of Royals October, potentially four teams better than any in the AL East, potentially four of the five best teams in the league. What that also means is that they may beat on one another so much that only one of them makes the playoffs, and one of them will be a second division, fourth place finisher.

That is the dark heart of the matter in the silver clouds of March. But look at it another way: the Royals, Indians, White Sox and Tigers do business in distinctively different ways, but they manage their businesses so well that one of them is going to have a really good team that finishes fourth.

http://www.gammonsdaily.com/peter-gammons-the-center-of-power/

 

“It’s all about being able to have a comfortable delivery that you can repeat a hundred times per start”

Jake Arrieta’s Mechanics: Learning from the Past

by Eno Sarris - March 20, 2015

When we took a look at Jake Arrieta‘s multi-faceted slider on Wednesday, the pitcher gave credit to ‘old-timers’ for the idea to use his legs to deaden the pitch. It turns out, there’s more old school in his mechanics than just a dragging back leg on a slow slider.

It’s not like Arrieta opened with a discussion of the way things used to be. When I first asked him about his mechanics, he felt there wasn’t one aha moment that helped him find his command and his best delivery. “I moved away from being concerned with mechanics to being more conscious of the positioning of my body and being able to put it in certain spots more consistently,” he said.

Just a natural growth, time, and a better understanding of his body had led to improvements. “Developing, maturing physically, understanding what you need to be consistent with, in order to have consistent command,” is how he put it.

But what did that mean? “For me, it boiled down to how can I get my body in the appropriate position at delivery. I figured that out,” he said. That mirrors what you might hear from a hitter. Adam LaRoche even said that “when you get to the position of impact, when you’re going after the ball, most of us are in the same spot.”

But how did he get there? “It’s about having certain feelings in the lower body and trying to connect everything,” he said. “It’s one connected piece. To me, it was a process of playing consistent long toss and being able to have certain cues throughout my delivery that allow me to stay on track.”

What you may not hear here is a specific change. There’s nothing here about working on the way he brings the ball up from behind him. There’s nothing here about an inverted W or dropping his elbow, or dragging his shoulder. Maybe he didn’t want to give those specifics, but when I pushed him once again, he said it was more about a feeling.

So you won’t see much if you put up an old delivery (2012, left) against his current one (May 2014, right). Maybe the new one is simpler. He starts from a different position.

“There’s no perfect delivery, there are no perfect mechanics,” he said, not frustrated by the badgering, but also not about to put his improvement all on one change. “It’s all about being able to have a comfortable delivery that you can repeat a hundred times per start, which is what I have now.”

Turns out, these ideas — like the idea that he can deaden his slider by using his lower half — came from yesterday’s game. And Arrieta was passionate about this one:

“You look at guys that pitched in the sixties and seventies, with moving parts all over the place, Jim PalmerBob Gibson, those guys, and people kind of strayed away from that and moved gradually to a more robotic type of delivery. I think that takes a lot of the athleticism out of it. If people could get back to being more athletic and understanding their body and the way it moves, I think that’s the more appropriate way to find out what’s the appropriate delivery for you.

It’s all individually based. Guys are done a disservice sometimes when people try to make them the guy that they want them to be rather than trying to reinforce the guy that they are, and helping them understand where their body needs to be at release. It doesn’t matter what you do on the mound or what you do going down the mound, what matters most is the position you are in at release. For me, it took a while to understand that, but now that I have that understanding, it makes things a lot easier.”

Ask Kyle Boddy of pitching lab Driveline Baseball about this idea, and he applauds it. “People obsess over their “mechanics” instead of just figuring out how their body best works to achieve a task consistently. I totally agree with the idea that in the 1990s and early 2000s that pitchers started to become very compact, robotic-like. There is a definite movement away from this in a lot of areas.” Boddy cited repeatability as a “driving plank” of his lab, which has had some notable success recently improving Trevor Bauer‘s command, among others.

Arrieta had another analogy to help back up his point, and it came from another sport. “I compare it to a golf swing a lot of time,” the pitcher said. “There are times when your lower body is going to be ahead of your upper body or vice versa. In a golf swing, those are things you can be aware of mid swing and make the adjustment. If your upper body in the backswing is late, then you got to get your hands going a little quicker. If, on the downswing, your hands are moving quicker than your hips, then you gotta increase the speed of your hips. Same thing with your delivery. If you leak out front with your lower body, you have to be aware that your arm and your upper body has to catch up.”

This analogy wasn’t as exciting to Boddy, but he still understood the pitcher. “A certain percentage of the time, you will just not execute properly and the ball will miss by a wide margin. No different than a fielder throwing it away or a hitter taking the worst hack ever at a center-cut fastball at 91 MPH. So I don’t necessarily agree that you always have to make adjustments on the fly, it’s OK to fail and screw up — as long as execution on the whole reaches a high percentage,” the coach felt.

If there’s a two-part answer to Arrieta’s breakout last year, step two was all about figuring out how to use the slider many different ways. But the pitcher was succinct when it came to step one — “it all starts with command” — even if he had many (old-school) thoughts about how he found the right mechanics to harness that command.

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/jake-arrietas-mechanics-learning-from-the-past/